Winners of the February/March Writing Challenge

 In How to write a book, Writing Challenge

For our February/March writing challenge, we asked you to write a scene in which a couple are meeting for a first date. We asked you to give us clues about how the date is going, and how the relationship might proceed from this point on. It’s a good exercise in foreshadowing, in suggesting possibilities without spelling them out – for showing, in other words, and not telling. 

And you rose to the challenge. Of course we have to single out a winner and a handful of runners-up – but congratulations to all who entered. It’s always worthwhile flexing those showing muscles. 

First prize goes to Tariq Fensham  for her chilling scene of a psycho predator at work on an unsuspecting date. We’re delighted to award you your choice of a literary assessment of 5000 words worth R2750/£150 or a voucher to the same value to use on one of our courses or programmes.

Runners up in no particular order: 

Katrin Ginley for her portrait of a self-absorbed, intensely self-conscious female manipulator. Well done for capturing what I hope is an outlier of the species! 

Bonnie Espie for her rather more transparent date, willing to put up with a great deal out of kindness – or avarice, I’m not sure which. 

Andrea Doig for her surprising (and very sad) reveal at the end. 

Mitzi Bunce-van Rooyen for her comic take on that oh-so-awkward first date. 

Congratulations to you all for some fine writing! And do keep sending your entries in for our April/May Writing Challenge – one of the best ways to sharpen your writing skills is by entering competitions like ours.


Tariq Fensham 

She is looking at me suspiciously, I know it. I can see that her eyes don’t match her mouth. They are slightly tight at the bottom lid.  

Her mouth is gorgeous, though. I really like the red lipstick. Not to kiss it – I hate that, it smears all over the place and tastes like rancid cooking oil, but I love to look at it on a full set of lips. It makes me imagine things. Things I shouldn’t be thinking about on a first date, but hell, what else am I here for?  

The wine arrives. Golden, sparkling splashes in fluted crystal. Lovely. Just what this sort of girl wants, I reckon. I watch her as the wine is poured. Yes, she likes this sort of stuff – trying to be sophisticated, imagining herself part of a different world. Obviously not her regular world. Black stretch lace is not part of the sparkling splash world. Neither are red faux-patent-leather shoes. Certainly not high ones like hers. Nor the red nails. But… she has tried, and what do I care? It’s what’s in them that matters to me.  

Crisp cotton shirt, top button undone, navy wool blazer over the back of my chair, casual. That’s me. Well-groomed always gets the right sort of attention.  

The wine relaxes those eyes of hers. Boring chit-chat. It’s endless, but hey, when she goes to freshen up, I’ll drop it her glass, then those red-lip-imaginings will be a short taxi-ride away. She won’t remember a thing. 


Katrin Ginley 

The voice in my head is possibly louder than the conversation at the table as I attempt to settle my facial features into something I hope looks like I’m listening intently. To be fair, I haven’t had to do much talking in the past ten minutes, and I may have zoned out after two. The sudden silence alerts me to the fact that something has changed. I bring him back into focus, both visually and audibly, trying to remember whether he has asked me a question about myself yet. He motions to a nearby waiter impatiently, pointing to our empty wine glasses. When had I finished that?  

“Well?” he asks, looking straight at me. My palms are sweating, aware of my clumsiness when I’m nervous, and being an expressive it generally results in a knocked over glass of wine or something else flying off the table.  

Great, I think, there was a question.  


He launches into another monologue, which sounds eerily similar to the last one, as he motions to the waiter again, complaining about the poor service before he orders our meals. I don’t remember being consulted.  

My internal voice starts to scream and now I pay attention. I take a closer look at this man sitting opposite me as I start my own internal dialogue. Brown eyes, well they lack warmth, chiselled features, no laughter lines? Manicured nails, immaculate clothing and perfect hair and teeth. Where’s the imperfection? Smiling sweetly at him I instantly relax. The pressure is off. 


Bonnie Espie 

So much for Spandex being an anagram of the word expands. The black number I’m wearing is determined to shrink up over my arse and reveal my thong. I’m late, but no need to look too keen, is there? Hein said–oh God, or was it Henry–anyway, he said to meet him on the patio. He’s there, twiddling a cocktail umbrella. His arms rest on the table. Just. He’s sitting too far away, but as close as he can. His belly’s the problem. He sees me and gives a fat fingered wiggle-wave and pushes to an awkward stand. His bulk sways like the titanic in rough seas. ‘Cindy?’ His breath is laboured. His palm is wet and doughy. His frat ring pinches my fingers. He digs a medicine bottle out of his top pocket and tosses two capsules down his throat leaving a salivating slick of moisture on his lips.  

A waiter, in starched whites, brings the menus. ‘Can I tell you today’s specials?’  

Horrified, Hein-ry shakes his head. That’s when I see the pale stripe of his missing wedding band.  

‘Ooh, yes please.’ I say, in my best kittenish voice. I settle on the honey walnut encrusted salmon with mango avocado salsa and sashimi to start.  

Hein-ry snaps the umbrella stick.  

‘You’re even hotter in real life, you devil.’ I say as I pinch Hein-ry’s florid cheek. No fun in not having a little tease while I’m here. Give him the jollies. I’m not heartless, you know. 


The One 

Andrea Doig 

I see my reflection in the mirror. 

Always alone. But not for long. I allow myself a shiver of anticipation.  

This time it will be different. This time, he will be my Prince Charming.  

A tinkling bell signals his arrival, and my blood quickens. Taking a steadying breath, I close my eyes.  

He has arrived.  

“Pleased to meet you.”  

His rich voice is perfectly timbered and a relieved smile cuts through my tense expression. 

“Thanks for meeting me. The coffee here is so worth it. I come here all the time. Especially when I am feeling alone. Thank you so much for coming.”  

His smile widens as my words wash over him in a nervous tumble.  

“The pleasure is mine. You are even more beautiful than in your photo Emma.”  

I melt back down into my chair. He is perfect.  

Two large cappuccinos later, I am flying high on caffeine and elation. I have talked nonstop for two hours now, and he is having the best time. He told me so.  

He smiles where others have frowned, and even suggested the second coffee where the others did not even finish their first before rushing off to some prior commitment.  

My eyes fill with happy tears and as I quickly blink them away, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Just me and my cappuccino at my usual table for one.  

Silly blurring tears! I turn back to my Prince Charming and give him my brightest smile. 


Hair’s Breadth 

Mitzi Bunce-van Rooyen 

I’m transfixed by his one, long hair flapping in the wind. I thought everyone knew the comb-over had been consigned to the past. I’m too picky, too judgmental. He’s lovely, really. He chose this delightful restaurant, he’s the consummate gentleman, and he’s not once glanced at his phone.  

But oh, that horrid hair. It’s driving me to distraction. It reminds me of those inflatable figures outside petrol stations. The ones who dance wildly with freakish faces like vengeful viennas. Just as you imagine it will settle, it shoots back up again. He must feel it flying around. It’s about to be ripped out at the root.  

Shit, he’s caught me eyeing it – do something – do something.  

I raise my glass and yell: “Cheers!”  

He blushes fire engine red and attempts to seize the harassing hair. It dodges left, it dodges right, but with one final, desperate swoop he foists the fuzz upon his shiny dome. With his free hand, he corrals his wine. A slight sheen glistens on his upper lip like a sweaty moustache; a testament to his efforts.  

He seems so awkward, so vulnerable. I’m a terrible, terrible person. I must make this right. 

 “You have the kindest eyes,” I say.  

His entire body registers relief. With a shy smile, he tucks the annoying strand behind a large, burning ear. The tip curls around his earlobe like a caress – smug, taunting – my furry foe. 


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